This week we’re beginning the third and final Act of the Gospel According to Mark which tells the story of how Jesus became King through his suffering death and resurrection. Because this is the most important part of the Gospel we’ll be breaking Act 3 into two parts. This week we’ll be exploring Jesus’ Royal Entrance and Conflict with Israel’s Leaders (Mark 11:1-13:37) and next week we’ll focus on Jesus’ Suffering, Death and Resurrection (Mark 14:1-16:8).
The approach we’re taking to this study breaks Mark down into 3 Acts. You can find a helpful 10 minute video summary of the whole Gospel and poster summarizing the 3 Acts in Part 1 of our study.
Act 3: Jerusalem
The final act of Mark’s Gospel explains how Jesus became the Messianic King and established God’s reign on earth. Everything in the Gospel has been leading up to this moment. Part 1 of this final act begins with Jesus’ royal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem and then moves into a series of conflicts Jesus has with the leaders of Israel as he asserts his authority as King. After Jesus defeats his challengers in a series of debates he warns his disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and God’s Temple, as well as prophesying their role in the extension of God’s Kingdom on earth.
Jesus’ Royal Entry (Mark 11:1-11)
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey at the start of the annual Passover festival, publicly claiming to be the Messiah for the first time. In doing this he was claiming to fulfill the prophesy of Zechariah 9:9-17 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The pilgrims to the festival welcome Jesus as king with the words of the great Passover song Psalm 118: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! ” (Mark 11:9)
It’s important to know that in the 1st Century the Passover festival, which celebrates God freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt, had become focused on the hope that God would soon act again to rescue his people. The Israelite kingdom of Judea had been under some form of Roman rule since 63 BC, but things had become steadily more oppressive since it became a Roman province in 6 AD. Judea was overseen by a junior Roman governor whose main role was to keep order and ensure taxes were collected. Day to day governance was placed in the hands of a local ruling Council made up of the Jewish priesthood, elders and scribes under the leadership of the High Priest.
There was a high level of Messianic expectation and nationalist fervor around most of the major Jewish festivals, but especially at Passover. The Roman governors would come to Jerusalem with a full garrison of soldiers from their administrative capital of Caesarea Maritima to keep order. It was a time of great tension which could easily explode in rioting or revolt.
Jesus Judges the Temple as King and Prophet (Mark 11:12-25)
By overturning the tables of the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals, Jesus asserts his royal authority over the Temple and announces God’s judgement in the words of the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. His reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy is especially significant as Jeremiah was the prophet who announced the destruction of the first Temple in 589 BC, and was nearly killed for daring to announce God’s judgement.
Jesus’ condemnation of the priests is partially for bringing the commerce needed for the Temple into the court of the Gentiles, which was supposed to be a place of prayer for the non-Jewish nations of the world. However, the main issue is that the priests, scribes and elders think that the Temple will shelter them from the consequences of their corruption and injustice in colluding with the Roman occupation: “you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:17/Jeremiah 7:11) Mark frames Jesus’ actions in the Temple with the story of him cursing of the fig tree. This was a symbol of Israel, and foreshadows God’s coming judgement.
Debates in the Temple (Mark 11:27-12:34)
When Jesus returns to the city the next day Israel’s formal leaders (the priests, elders and scribes) and other leading groups (Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees) all challenge Jesus in a series of debates. Jesus emerges victorious, defeating his would be accusers, and winning the respect of the one person who asks him an honest question.
- 11:27-33 The priests, scribes and elders question Jesus’ royal and prophetic claims and Jesus exposes their total disregard for truth.
- 12:1-12 Jesus prophesies that Israel’s leaders will kill him and then be destroyed by God in the Parable of the Vineyard (another symbol of Israel). Jesus presents the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple as a result of Israel’s leaders rejecting God’s last offer of mercy and forgiveness. It should be noted that this condemnation is for the Jewish leaders, not the Jewish people as a whole.
- 12:13-17 The Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus with a question about Roman taxes and end up condemning themselves. There needed to be money changers at the Temple because Roman coinage was blasphemous. Yet the Pharisees and Herodians have a Roman denarius in their purses, showing their hypocrisy. This story isn’t about separation of church and state, but giving Caesar back the corrupt coins stamped with his image, and giving God the human lives that he has stamped with his image.
- 12:18-27 The Sadducees challenge Jesus about the Resurrection and are also defeated. The Sadducees accepted only the authority of the 5 books of Moses (the Torah) and a smaller collection of prophetic writings. They did not believe in newer Jewish beliefs such as the Messiah, the Resurrection of the Dead or the future Day of the Lord. Hence Jesus silences them from a central passage in the Torah.
- 12:28-34 A righteous scribe asks the only honest question of the day, wanting to see which commandment Jesus believes is the greatest in God’s Law (another name for the Torah). While others had summed up the Law with the words of Leviticus 19:18, Jesus is revolutionary in combining it with the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (Israel’s central confession of faith). The scribe approves of Jesus’ answer, and no one else dares ask him another question.
Final Teaching in the Temple (Mark 12:35-44)
As he’s done with the disciples, Jesus addresses the crowds with the question of whether the Messiah is merely a human king in the line of King David, or something much more. He does this by turning to one the Scriptures that was widely believed to prophecy about the Messiah, Psalm 110. Jesus then condemns the scribes, who were the learned teachers of the Torah and other sacred writings of the Jewish people. The scribes and Pharisees are not exactly same. Many of the most influential scribes were Pharisees, but not all. Mark depicts a variety of groups questioning and opposing Jesus where Matthew and Luke put more of the focus on the Pharisees. This is likely because they wrote in the period after the destruction of the Temple when the Pharisees were taking their first steps of becoming the new leaders of the Jewish people and coming into conflict with the Jewish followers of Jesus.
Prophesy of the Temple’s Destruction and the Coming of God’s Kingdom (Mark 13:1-37)
Jesus uses Apocalyptic imagery to prophesy the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem within one generation. This was fulfilled in the disastrous Jewish Revolt of 66-70AD which was ruthlessly crushed by the Roman Empire. The ‘Abomination of Desolation’ in 13:14 refers to the vision in the chapter 9 of the book of Daniel. In Daniel this expression refers to the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes placing an idol in the Temple, which ignited the last revolution against foreign rule by the Maccabees. However, this time military revolution will bring about Judea’s destruction. Early traditions show that most Jewish Christians did heed Jesus’ warnings and fled Jerusalem ahead of the Roman siege.
Jesus continues his Apocalyptic prophesy with the coming of the Son of Man in power and the end of history. He closes with warnings to be prepared and to “keep awake.” Jesus actually says relatively little about the end times here, and what he does say is very cryptic. The main point is to not despair over Jerusalem’s destruction, but live in hope for the final victory of God’s Kingdom and Jesus’ return. We might interpret 13:27 as a prophecy of Christian missionaries (the Greek word angelos refers to both divine and human messengers) spreading through the world to gather the elect into God’s Kingdom.
Next Week: Act 3, Part 2 (Mark 14:1-16:8)